1933 January 8, 2005

Bodyline's final fling

One of the last outings of Bodyline came in the unlikeliest of settings - the Varsity match of 1933 - when Ken Farnes almost bowled Cambridge to a controversial victory



Ken Farnes: one of the fastest bowlers in the country © The Cricketer
If the events in Australia in 1932-33 had made Bodyline a household word, once the euphoria of regaining the Ashes had subsided and cold reality set in, the whole idea of leg theory began to take on rather a soiled feel. Seeing it in the flesh, many realised that it wasn't quite what the game was all about.

The one place that leg theory wasn't expected to be on show was in the relatively genteel setting of the Varsity Match. For one thing, Oxford v Cambridge was identified as being very much a gentlemen's contest; for another, effective leg theory needed good, accurate fast bowling. While both universities produced countless decent batsmen, fast bowling was usually the domain of the professionals.

But in 1933 Cambridge possessed Ken Farnes, a supremely fit and genuinely fast bowler who could cut the ball both ways and produce alarming bounce. And, crucial to potent leg theory, he was accurate, the attribute which helped make Harold Larwood so effective. In the weeks before the match he had been practising trying to bounce the ball over the wall at the back of the nets at Fenner's. "My bowling relied to a certain extent on intimidation," he later confessed, admitting that he had some reservations but that there seemed "little reason not to try to use a method that had proved successful on an MCC tour."

Farnes was in his final year at Cambridge, collecting his third Blue, and on the morning of the match one newspaper wrote that he only had to "bowl a length to reap a harvest of wickets". But he opted for different tactics. Play started late because of overnight rain, and on a damp pitch Farnes opened up with three short legs - a slip was brought across after one over to make it four - and a barrage of short deliveries. Runs were at a premium, but Farnes went wicketless, although he cracked David Walker, the Oxford opener, in the ribs - and The Times dismissed his opening burst as "an arrant waste of time". He returned later with a conventional field, but was far from threatening.

Two other Cambridge bowlers - Jahangir Khan, Rolph Grant - followed suit with packed leg-side fields, but both were offspinners and bowling to an altogether different plan. An unsatisfactory day was brought to a premature close by the weather, with Oxford 127 for 7. "The spectators," The Times said, "were nearly driven mad" by the bowlers' tactics.

On the second day (one on which less than two hours' play was possible), Farnes continued his strategy. "The pitch was faster than one would have expected after all the rain that had fallen," reported The Cricketer, "and Farnes, bowling from the pavilion end, bowled fast and often made the ball rise high."



Ken Farnes in full flight © The Cricketer
He started by having Viv Jenkins well caught down the leg side by Joseph Comber, the wicketkeeper, but at least he escaped without physical damage. Farnes then struck Oxford's fast bowler Richard Tindall a blow which clearly unsettled him, and he was yorked next delivery, and then Peter Oldfield, the No. 11, was struck on the jaw by the first ball he faced, which deflected into the stumps.

With so much time lost, a draw seemed inevitable. Cambridge began their innings on the third morning and although they collapsed in the afternoon, their 45-run lead should have been insufficient to worry Oxford.

But Farnes, again opening from the pavilion end, ripped through Oxford's top order, once again bowling fast and short to a packed leg field. David Townsend, an opening batsman good enough to be picked for England on the strength of his university form, was hit in the neck by Farnes and staggered into his stumps. Within an hour, Oxford were 32 for 6, still 13 in arrears, with only the South African Alan Melville of the recognised batsmen left.

However Farnes, who had "bowled like a lion" for his four wickets according to one report, was exhausted. "I wasn't able to do my part," he admitted, and Oxford held on for a draw.

The papers praised Farnes for his skill, but not for his tactics. The Times referred to a match which had produced "much controversy and a deal of muddled thinking". And The Cricketer reflected that Cambridge's tactics "did not meet with general approval," adding that Farnes was "a better bowler when he set an orthodox field".

Although West Indies occasionally resorted to out-and-out leg theory during their tour - most notably against England in general and Douglas Jardine in particular at Old Trafford - the Bodyline tactic was making its last hurrah.

Melville, who had seen off Farnes's final burst at Lord's, was subjected to possibly its last really ferocious outing, at Hove at the end of August when the West Indians Herman Griffith and Manny Martindale battered him with vicious bouncers. But on a relatively docile pitch they were mercilessly hooked and, if they pitched the ball up, they were driven, and Melville made 114 in two and half hours.

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Bibliography
Ken Farnes - Dairy of an Essex Master - David Thurlow (Parrs Wood, 2000)
The Cricketer July 15, 1933
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1934
The Times